CEO Frans Muller talks Ahold Delhaize
The historic company, whose shares are listed on the Amsterdam bourse, has just issued some pretty sprightly figures for 2020. Its supermarkets, convenience stores and digital operations in the Benelux, CEE as well as the US posted a stomping €75bn in net sales.
This represents a massive online plus of 67 per cent and like-for-likes of 13 per cent for bricks & mortar.
But the Covid pandemic fuelled all system-relevant retailers last year, and most customers will get their jabs in 2021 as society comes out of lockdown. Meanwhile, corona-related costs have cut operating income by 16.6 per cent.
So, should the champagne corks be popping again at HQ in Zaandam? We asked the boss...
"We haven't asked for a cent"
This issue is part of a broader social debate, and we believe that any such question must be left to the new government cabinet in the Netherlands. However, I would like to say here that our company is very close to the 7,000 international communities we serve. This is why we have invested heavily in Covid-related care, which we feel is part of our social responsibility. We are also very reliable taxpayers.
What do you mean by heavy investment?
Last year, we invested more than €680m to protect our customers and staff, pay our associates additional bonuses and to make charitable donations. We have also committed ourselves to providing €1.5bn in pension provisions. We created 45,000 additional jobs during the pandemic in order to continue providing customers with food.
Last but not least, our online platforms also offer a marketplace to many traders who might otherwise have gone out of business. We now have 42,000 commercial users on bol.com alone.
What type of bonuses have you paid your employees?
In other countries, we have paid one-off bonuses and issued food vouchers, or in Belgium, for example, we increased staff vacation.
Have you received any state aid?
No, not a cent. We didn't even apply for any despite having to close some Albert Heijn stores in the Netherlands for health reasons and having fewer tourist-customers in large international cities such as Bucharest, Amsterdam or Prague.
In 2020, your online sales increased by two-thirds. Why are you aiming for an increase of 'only' 30 per cent this year?
Of course, the tragic Covid pandemic has distorted all the numbers and far outstripped our previous growth plans. Therefore, a comparison with 2019 would actually be more appropriate. The online growth we are aiming at this year must be compared to the base value of an exceptionally strongly 2020.
In non-food, you are already profitable on bol.com. When will your online food operations be in the black?
Your question, however, is almost old-fashioned, if I may say so. A retailer can even lose those customers who mainly shop in physical stores if they are also not offered an online alternative. Omni-channel customers also spend more on average than customers who only shop in stores or only online.
Has the Covid crisis had any lasting impact on your M&A pans?
Hardly. We still have an active agenda. As in the past, our acquisitions are not about big or small, but whether they fit our strategic goals. The only difference is that we now look for physical space and online expertise as can be seen by our recent purchases on both sides of the Atlantic.